The Authority of Scripture

There is a temptation to see the Bible as self-sufficient, that a person really needs no other guide. The idea here is that the Bible itself instructs you how to read it, and that if you just keep reading it with an open mind you will learn everything you need to know about its message. This, I believe, is a misconception!

When Lutherans and other Reformers cry Sola Scriptura they are not saying the Bible is the only thing you need. Instead, they are saying that the Bible alone is the highest authority. In Lutheran Confessional terms we talk about Scripture being “the only rule and norm according to which all doctrines and teachers alike must be appraised and judged.”

For the Written Word to carry authority, the first thing needed is literacy. Someone must be able to read, know vocabulary, understand sentence structure, and understand rules of grammar. And then reader and hearer alike must be able to think logically.

Although the Scriptures themselves help bring forth faith, belief that the writings themselves are the Word of God is fundamental to understanding them. The Church, involving the Communion of Saints, believes, teaches, and confesses that the Bible is the Word of God.

And then as Scripture itself teaches, just as the Holy Spirit inspired the writers of the Bible, so the Holy Spirit is needed for us to understand them (cf. 2 Peter 1:20-21). Such interpretation is not a matter of individual interpretation! Part of the reason for this is that the Holy Spirit both gathers the Church and then works through the variety of spiritual gifts variously given to its members to guide us.

It is good to remember that as our Lord Jesus and His Apostles bore witness to the meaning of the Old Testament Scriptures, it was not enough that people then knew them well. They needed to have their ears and hearts opened to learn that the Scriptures pointed to Jesus – His death and resurrection for our salvation. (cf. John 5:39; 1 Cor. 10:11)

Since You Asked…

What is the purpose of the Psalm Reading? And why do we often sing (chant) the Psalm? “The appointed psalm is sung as a meditation on the First Lesson, a response to it, and a bridge to the Second Lesson. … Hearers of the lessons need a chance to assimilate the First Lesson before the Second Lesson begins. The required use of a psalm between the lessons provides for the restoration of psalm singing to its traditional place in the life of the church and gives the worshiper the opportunity to participate in the singing (or reading) of a portion of Scripture…” (from “Manual on the Liturgy” companion to the LBW, from Augsburg Pub.)

Chanting can be thought of as “exalted speech”. It sets the speech apart from regular speech and the slower cadence allows for reflection


Meditating On Scripture Together

When you read the Bible during the week try whenever you can to read it along with someone else. Hopefully this can be done in the home with your family. Take turns reading passages out loud to one another. Discuss the passage together. This conversation is part of what is involved in meditating on Scripture.

I strongly recommend you having a reading guide. Reading cover to cover is not the best plan. Why? Well, for starters you will be two thirds of the way through until you reach the New Testament.

The Lutheran Book of Worship (LBW) contains a two year daily lectionary which involves three readings for each day. It provides an Old Testament reading, a reading from the epistles (letters) of the New Testament, and a reading from one of the four Gospel Accounts in the New Testament.

I send out these assigned readings to all the members, both as a monthly guide, and then also as a weekly guide each week in “The Gift of Grace Congregation at Prayer Guide”.

There are a number of advantages in utilizing this lectionary (list of readings). The first is that it can put all of us on the same page. This would enhance conversation when we meet each other – such conversation itself being a form of meditating on the Word. Second, one can listen to God speak through his Hebrew prophets, through the appointed New Testament apostles, and through his Son in the Gospel accounts concurrently all on the same day. And third, in two years you will have read most of the passages in Scripture.

As you are reading each day you can continue to learn the Small Catechism by heart as provided each week in the “…Congregation at Prayer.” This will help you focus on the main teachings to glean from Scripture.

Finally keep active on Sundays in hearing God’s Word in the Divine Service, and participate in Bible Studies offered in the church.

Since You Asked…

Why do we stand during the reading of the Gospel Lesson?

By standing we are giving expression of special respect and adoration. In the Gospel Accounts we meet our Lord Jesus Christ in a special way. In these writings we are presented with Jesus’ Judean and Galilean ministry. We also have a record of the very words of our Lord (his teachings, parables, dialog, etc.). We hear the accounts of Jesus’ death and resurrection, the work of our salvation.

Although the entire Bible is the Word of God, it is in the Gospels that our Lord is most directly presented to us. So you might say that Christ himself is being presented before us in the Gospel Lesson. It is therefore most appropriate that we stand at attention.

Reading Scripture Together

As many of you are aware not all Christians through time have been literate. And before the advent of the printing press in the fifteenth century not many were able to afford a personal hand copied Bible. So for much of the life of the Church Christians were dependent upon the public reading and hearing of Scripture.

Aside from the fact that many did not have the luxury of being able to read privately the Bible, there have been other reasons for the emphasis on the public reading of Scripture out loud and being listened to carefully. So much of the Bible has its context in public address. Take for example the prophetic pronouncements to Israel, Judea, or Jerusalem. Or take for another example letters from the Apostle Paul addressed to churches that were read aloud to the gathered community of believers.

And then it is good to keep in mind that proclamation (preaching) and teaching is associated with God’s Written Word. A good deal of the New Testament writing itself is a teaching and insistence on the meaning of the Hebrew Scriptures.

As the Holy Spirit superintended the writing of Scripture, so the Holy Spirit “calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it united with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.” It is in and through this Church that we learn to hear the truth and meaning of Scripture reliably. Most heresies have involved a private, idiosyncratic, way of reading Scripture apart from the Church.

I would never discourage personal Bible reading on your own. But I would caution you against reading in isolation from the Body of Christ. The more familiar you become with the contents and story line of Scripture the better! But constantly look for guidance and the sense of Scripture from the Church (cf. 1 Tim. 3:15).

Since You Asked…

Do Lutherans Promote Private Confession?

“Confession has not been abolished by the preachers on our side. … The people are carefully instructed concerning the consolation of the Word of absolution (forgiveness) so that they may esteem it as a great and precious thing. It is not the voice of the man who speaks it, but it is the Word of God, who forgives sin, for it is spoken in God’s stead and by God’s command. …it is necessary for terrified consciences” (Augsburg Confession, XXV)

Confession has two parts: First that we confess our sins, and second, that we receive absolution, that is, forgiveness, from the Pastor as from God himself.

The Essentials of Christianity

There is a reason why I remain insistent on our congregation growing familiar with Luther’s Small Catechism. I know of no better way to learn the essentials of Christianity. It serves as a framework and handbook for the Scriptures. It does not take the place of the Bible, but it reliably distills the essential message of Holy Writ. It also helps to guide a faithful reading of Scripture.

You should know that the essential elements of Luther’s Small Catechism predate Luther. Dr. Luther is not being original! The essential elements of the Church’s foundational teaching had long been the Ten Commandments, The Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer. The historic Church also provided instruction on the Sacraments.

Luther’s contribution was to provide simple and succinct explanations as to the meaning of the following six principle elements: the Ten Commandments; the Apostles’ Creed; the Lord’s Prayer; the Sacrament of Holy Baptism; the Sacrament of Confession and Absolution; and the Sacrament of Holy Communion.

These elements provide a comprehensive (not exhaustive) understanding of the Christian Faith, namely to come to repentance and saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. The Commandments preach repentance. The Creed preaches the faith that saves us from sin. The Prayer preaches the holy life. In Baptism we are regenerated and made Christians. In Confession and Absolution we keep returning to the promises of Baptism. And in Communion we are nurtured with Christ’s body and blood.

As we learn the Small Catechism by heart we will be able to speak effectively and clearly the Gospel of Christ to others. We will have a good framework for understanding the rest of Scripture. We will understand that all Scripture points to Christ, and how through his Son and in his Holy Spirit God works on our behalf for life and salvation.

The Catechism is not something we learn once and are done with it. It can form our prayers and guide us continually in God’s Word.

Since You Asked…

What is the meaning of the “KYRIE” (kir-E-A)?

KYRIE is a Latin term which is in turn is a transliteration of a Greek word meaning “Lord.” In the Latin Mass the term KYRIE was combined with the term ELESION meaning “have mercy.” In addition, the Mass included a three-fold response: KYRIE ELEISON, CHRISTE ELEISON, KYRIE ELEISON, which translated is “Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy.” In our Lutheran Worship Service we utilize a prayer from the Latin Mass known as a Peace Litany. A Litany is a responsive prayer. This Litany is usually led by our Assisting Minister, and the congregation response is the KYRIE ELEISON. And so the Assisting Minister begins, “In peace let us pray to the Lord,” and the congregation responds to this and each succeeding petition with, “Lord, have mercy.” (with help from the Manual on the Liturgy a companion to the Lutheran Book of Worship, publ. by Augsburg).

The Foundation of the Church

The Apostle Paul writes in Colossians 2 that just as we have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so we are to walk in Christ, rooted and built up in him. The images here are from agriculture and construction. And they both have to do with the sufficiency of Christ not only to save us, but also to finish the work he begins in us so that we are made fit to live forever in his kingdom.

The roots of a plant draw the essential nutrients that supply the rest of the plant so that it will bear fruit. Just so our lives must be rooted in Christ. It is from His Word and the Holy Spirit that He sends us from the Father that spiritual nutrition is provided for our lives in Him. We receive these nutrients when we listen to God’s Word being preached and taught. We receive them when, having confessed our sins, we hear and believe the absolution, that is, forgiveness from Christ. And we receive these nutrients when we regularly commune with Christ’s body and blood given with bread and wine in Holy Communion.

The building that is built on a firm foundation is a structure that will stand and endure. As Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount, a house built on sand will be swept away when the storms of rising water and winds beat against the house. At the same time, a house built upon a rock will stand firm when the water and winds assail it. And as you well know, eventually storms will come!

Paul writes in his Ephesian correspondence that the edifice of the church is built upon the foundation of the Prophets and Apostles, with Christ Jesus being the cornerstone (cf. Eph 2:20). In other words, God’s Word – the word of our Lord Jesus Christ – is the foundation upon which the Church will endure the passing of this present, tumultuous, stormy age.

We walk in Christ by being rooted and built upon Christ!

Since You Asked…

What is meant by the term “liturgy”?

(from the Greek, “work of the people” or “public service”): more than a set form of service or one particular service, the liturgy is the whole body of texts and music used for the worship of God. The Lutheran Book of Worship is the liturgy of many Lutheran churches in North America.  (from “Manual on the Liturgy” companion to the LBW, from Augsburg Pub.)

Our Lutheran liturgy involves the participation of all who are gathered: clergy, worship assistants, and laity. Worship is not a spectator sport. We have been gathered by God to receive from Him. And so in reverence, we give thanks by offering praise and thanksgiving to our Triune God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Liturgical worship helps us all share in this.


Rooted and Built Upon Christ

The Apostle Paul writes in Colossians 2 that just as we have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so we are to walk in Christ, rooted and built up in him. The images here are from agriculture and construction. And they both have to do with the sufficiency of Christ not only to save us, but also to finish the work he begins in us so that we are made fit to live forever in his kingdom.

The roots of a plant draw the essential nutrients that supply the rest of the plant so that it will bear fruit. Just so our lives must be rooted in Christ. It is from His Word and the Holy Spirit that He sends us from the Father that spiritual nutrition is provided for our lives in Him. We receive these nutrients when we listen to God’s Word being preached and taught. We receive them when, having confessed our sins, we hear and believe the absolution, that is, forgiveness from Christ. And we receive these nutrients when we regularly commune with Christ’s body and blood given with bread and wine in Holy Communion.

The building that is built on a firm foundation is a structure that will stand and endure. As Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount, a house built on sand will be swept away when the storms of rising water and winds beat against the house. At the same time, a house built upon a rock will stand firm when the water and winds assail it. And as you well know, eventually storms will come!

Paul writes in his Ephesian correspondence that the edifice of the church is built upon the foundation of the Prophets and Apostles, with Christ Jesus being the cornerstone (cf. Eph 2:20). In other words, God’s Word – the word of our Lord Jesus Christ – is the foundation upon which the Church will endure the passing of this present, tumultuous, stormy age.

We walk in Christ by being rooted and built upon Christ! 

Since You Asked…

What is meant by the term “liturgy”?

(from the Greek, “work of the people” or “public service”): more than a set form of service or one particular service, the liturgy is the whole body of texts and music used for the worship of God. The Lutheran Book of Worship is the liturgy of many Lutheran churches in North America.  (from “Manual on the Liturgy” companion to the LBW, from Augsburg Pub.)

Our Lutheran liturgy involves the participation of all who are gathered: clergy, worship assistants, and laity. Worship is not a spectator sport. We have been gathered by God to receive from Him. And so in reverence, we give thanks by offering praise and thanksgiving to our Triune God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Liturgical worship helps us all share in this.

God’s Word Causes Growth

In Colossians 1:28 the Apostle Paul writes that he proclaims Christ, warning and teaching every person, so that he might present them mature in Christ. So for the Apostle, Christ not only provides us with forgiveness so that we might stand pure before God, but Christ also goes to work on us so that one day our sinful nature might be done away with once and for all and that we desist from sinning. This is presented as spiritual growth, indeed as reaching maturity.

At the same time Paul is concerned we might develop some bad ideas about spiritual growth, especially when we begin to act like such growth depends on us. Now to be sure the work of Christ to help us reach our full stature in Christ happens in and through us, and not without us; at the same time it is His work!

When we make it our responsibility a number of things go awry. For starters, we begin to try to measure our growth. This in turn can lead us to comparisons, which in turn can lead to either pride or despair.

Also when we try to measure or mark our growth we become very preoccupied with the self, which is the antithesis of loving God with our whole being and then loving our neighbor as ourselves. When instead growth happens naturally we will have so entrusted our “selves” to His care and provisions that we give our “selves” little thought. Instead we become lost in glorifying our heavenly father and in loving our neighbor.

When we assume responsibility for our maturation we then rely on our own understanding. This is defective. Instead, we should rely on God. God not only gives us spiritual birth, but like a good parent He also sees to our nurture and He does so through Word and Sacrament. Our focus must ever remain on our Lord, and receiving His Word. It is His received Word that causes growth!

Since You Asked…

Why do we celebrate Holy Communion nearly every Sunday?

The celebration of the meal we call Holy Communion has consistently been the chief act of Christian worship since the age of the Apostles. The Lutheran Reformation did not break with this tradition of 1,500 years. In fact the Augsburg Confession (our principal statement of faith) declares Holy Communion to be the chief act of worship for Lutherans on Sundays and festivals (Art. 26).  (from “Manual on the Liturgy” companion to the LBW, from Augsburg Pub.)

You might think of Holy Communion as spiritual bread and drink for our journey (pilgrimage), for our Lord’s Body and Blood is true nutrition indeed!

The Head and the Heart

In Matthew 22 Jesus reaffirms Deuteronomy 6 where we are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, all our soul, all our strength, and with all our mind. We can easily forget the mention of our mind, especially in the present age that tends to dumb things down and emphasizes a “heart-felt” faith rather than an intellectual approach.

What we can easily overlook is that the use of “heart” in the Scripture seldom refers to human emotions or feelings. In the Bible the heart is pictured as pondering, thinking, reasoning, and exercising wisdom. There is not the dichotomy of heart and mind that is often made in our culture. The seat of the emotions in Scripture is one’s bowels or gut feelings. This is because our emotions often affect our digestive system.

In addition to its reasoning ability, the heart in Scripture is also seen as the core of one’s being and it is identified with one’s will and determination.

There is entirely too much dumbing down in Christian outreach and nurture. There is also too much appealing to emotions and experience. The result of this is a lack of knowledge, wisdom, and understanding. Disciples are not developing the mind of Christ (cf. 1 Cor. 2:16).

Part of what it means to be created in the image of God is that human beings are rational creatures. Indeed the Creator of heaven and earth created a world that is ordered and intelligible. And the creation is a work of the Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Interestingly, in John’s Gospel the Son of God is called the “Word”, or in the Greek the logos. The Greek term means more than “word”. Its possible meanings include an account or reckoning, an argument, principle, reason, or thought.

Faith is not just credulity or gullibility! It is based on evidence. Belief may be supra-rational (beyond reason), but it is not irrational. It is not undone with a healthy skepticism and willingness to use reason.

Since You Asked…

What is meant by the term “catholic” as when we confess, “I believe in the holy catholic Church?”

The term “catholic” means whole and refers to a church which receives the Christian faith intact without alteration or selection of matters of the faith. The opposite of catholic is heretic, one who picks and chooses which parts of the faith to accept. Thus “catholic” is more specific than “Christian” and is not a synonym for “ecumenical” or “worldwide”. (from “Manual on the Liturgy” companion to the LBW, from Augsburg Pub.)

- often when the “C” is capitalized “Catholic” is referring to the Roman Catholic Church, and when the “c” is lower case “catholic” is referring to the Church receiving the whole of the faith.

Surrender and Submit

White Surrender Flag.H02.2k.png

There is a formation process with discipleship. And this is something that does not get talked about enough!

As we have been mentioning, teaching is involved in this process. That is what Jesus indicated in Matthew 28:19-20, in what we call the Great Commission. And this catechesis is more than academic knowledge. It is the truth of God’s Word having its divine effect on our lives, bringing us to repentance and faith in Christ.

Our salvation does not depend on our work, or any contribution we make. Rather, it depends on the work God’s Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, accomplished on our behalf. He fulfills all the Law, and he was obedient onto death on the Cross whereby he atoned for our sins.

Of course we are invited to place our faith in Jesus and what he accomplished on our behalf. But as Ephesians 2:8-9 makes clear, our ability to respond by faith to the Divine initiative is itself a gift. When we come to Jesus and trust in him, it is because the Holy Spirit draws us through the Gospel and enlightens our understanding. That makes faith, less something we do, than it is our laying down arms and surrendering. That is, trust in Jesus is when we abandon trying on our own to work out of the problems that our efforts created in the first place.

At the same time, although it is not something we can take credit for doing, the way Christ and his Word works in and through us will involve our effort. That is why the Apostle Paul could say, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling!” Because he goes on to write, “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12-13).

Formation by the Word is God’s work. But that does not spell easy street! We will need to surrender and submit to ongoing careful listening with lots of repetition. In fact we will need to learn to pray God’s Word and know it by heart. Drawing our life from him can be painful. But he is faithful and leads us.

Since You Asked…

What is the significance of sharing the peace?

“The peace which enables people to live in unity and in the spirit of mutual forgiveness comes only from Christ whose word has been proclaimed. … The peace is a sign that those who participate in it open themselves to the healing and reconciling power of God’s love and offer themselves to be agents of that love in the world. … The personal exchange of the peace should be as unpatterned as possible, but its meaning and significance should be kept clear. It is not the occasion merely for conviviality. The choice of gesture, whether a handshake, holding hands, or an embrace, should be left to the persons themselves.”  (from “Manual on the Liturgy” companion to the LBW, from Augsburg Pub.)

Restored for Good Works

In the masterplan of Lutheran Catechesis the six principal parts work to give us a comprehensive framework of the Christian Faith. What follows is a sketch of how it works; keeping in mind the goal of catechesis is leading a person to repentance and faith in Christ.

In the Commandments God’s Word is meant to lead us to repentance. The Law reflects God’s will and his expectations of us. Out of fear of punishment his law curbs evil in this world. But the flood of our sinful rebellion often overcomes the curb. Here the Law also functions as a mirror. This mirror when held closely and clearly before us, shows us to be lost and condemned sinners. Were it not for what comes next we would be lost, full of terror, and goners.

What comes next is a discussion of how God works mercifully with lost and condemned sinners. In the Creed we learn how God creates, gives life, and sustains us by his grace. In the Creed we learn how God works through his Son to redeem us from sin, death, and servitude to the evil one. And in the Creed we learn how the Holy Spirit brings us to saving faith in Christ, who in turn brings us to the Father. All this is done on our behalf by sheer grace!

Of course we are not redeemed so that we sit on the shelf like a turnip. We are restored so that we can get on with the stewardship and good works for which we were created. Doing this will not save us, but being saved we are put in position to fulfill the role for which we were created in the first place. But this will only happen with ongoing prayer, in fact most especially by praying for the very things our Lord Jesus taught us in his prayer – the Lord’s Prayer.

Baptism, Confession, and Holy Communion are the tangible ways we meet the Lord in his Word to us in addition to hearing the Word in preaching and teaching (catechesis).

Since You Asked…

What is the meaning of the Incarnation?

The word incarnation is taken from Latin term incarnatio. It literally means “taking flesh” and in the Christian Faith it refers to God becoming human. In John 1:14 we learn of God the Son becoming flesh with the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. Indeed the child born to Mary was a man, but it is the insistence of the Christian Faith that Jesus was also fully God. He is sometimes called the God-Man. Without ceasing to be fully divine, inseparable and equal to God the Father and God the Holy Spirit; God the Son also fully assumed our humanity in the womb of the Virgin Mary. In this way Jesus mediates God to man and then also represents man to God. The mystery of the Incarnation becomes a necessary means by which Jesus’ death and resurrection accomplishes our salvation.